You can either come up with a big idea that’s truly going to help communication practitioners be more effective, or you can use the formula that most communication keynoters use.
What’s the formula? First, take the best dozen anecdotes from your spotty career and dress them up to sound heroic. Then, repeat them in Toastmaster’s talks and chapter events until you actually believe, for instance, that you once walked into the CEO’s office and asked him whether he did or didn’t want you to tell him when he was full of b.s.
Now, plug those well-honed yarns into the Communication Keynote for Dummies Formula®, which involves saying two things realquickbacktoback: an insult, and a lie.
1. The insult: That members of the audience are worthless drudges doing meaningless work. For instance, you might tell them that the “formal communication” that they’re responsible to produce represents less than 10% of the information employees take in. This will have a powerful effect on an audience of sincere communicators who already doubt their effectiveness; now to their doubt you have added shame, and you have them right where you want them.
2. The lie: The drudges can become heroes, if only they will use their copious discretionary time and their unlimited power to transform the entire organization to conform to their superior instincts as communicators. For instance, one might tell an audience of communication managers that, in addition to juggling all their campaigns, events, vehicles and departmental issues, they ought to venture forth and change HR policies and procedures to eliminate the thousands of credibility-killing daily "say-do" gaps. And when they’re through with that, they ought to go knock some supervisors’ heads together until those unwashed bastards get on message too.
I know what you’re thinking: The audience won’t appreciate being insulted and will object to being lied to. Au contraire, some of them will love it! (Many grown-ups are looking for father- and mother-figures, and the more smug you are, the more comforted they will be by your authority.)
Others may respond less enthusiastically to your attack, but they won’t have the courage either to claim they don’t see themselves as Bartleby the Scrivener, or to admit it’s not their purview to close the organization’s “walk-talk disconnects.”
This leaves only a handful of punch-bowl turds to ever-so-politely suggest during the Q&A that you are a phony. Since you already know this—after all, as a consultant you’ll take any nickel anyone pays you, and you get most of those nickels in exchange for doing the tactical 10% that you deride—you accept it with a shrug and a smile and the hint of a wink and you say, “We have a difference of opinion.”
It’s that simple! Oh, sure, there are advanced techniques. I could describe the Keynote Cadence, teach you how to remind the audience of what losers they are by sprinkling in context-free anecdotes about great companies in utterly different industries, arm you with rhetorical canards like, “now, I know I’m going to be very unpopular when I say this” and show you how to introduce a communication “model” that’s at once simple enough to explain in on one PowerPoint slide but complex enough to require months and many thousands of dollars to understand fully and implement in your organization.
But basically, anybody can follow the CKDF®, which works today every bit as well as it ever did.
The question is, do these talks do anybody any good? They sure do! They get you in front of some hundreds of eager, ambitious communicators every year, talking to them like the voice of God. That leads to clients and clients pay you money and money pays the bills and when the bills get paid everyone’s happy.
Except for your audiences, who trudge away with less than the nothing they brought to your talk.